Seven Connecticut College undergraduates, Fr. Bob Washabaugh, two Catholic chaplain interns from Yale Divinity School and I spent a week at the Arizona-Mexico border. Some of the students went to get a better idea of the sacrifices their parents made so that they could have a better life here in the United States. Others, coming from places of privilege, wanted to learn directly and personally who crosses the border, their reasons for crossing and how they are treated. I went to see first-hand the experience of so many with whom I am privileged to minister – to “walk a mile in their moccasins”, so to speak, so as to understand with my heart.
We visited several Catholic, ecumenical, and civic groups working with migrants on both sides of the border. We heard the stories of those caught in the cross-fire of the immigration debate on this side of the border, as well as those trapped in desperation on the Mexican side. Rosa Robles Loreto, on this side of the border, is confined to the property of a Presbyterian Church in South Tucson, a sanctuary church since the mid 80’s. Rosa is in deportation proceedings. Her attorney requested sanctuary for her while continuing to plead her case. Thousands of letters have been sent to Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, to request a stay of deportation for this wife and mother of two young children who has been an active and contributing member of both civic and church communities. Her crime? A minor traffic violation which caused Arizona police to stop her and demand proof of legal status. As Rosa had only her Mexican driver’s license, they immediately called Homeland Security. She was held for a few months in a detention center, i.e., a prison, at times suffering abusive treatment. When released, she was placed in sanctuary. If Rosa so much as steps off the property of this church, she is likely to be arrested, handed over to Homeland Security, and immediately deported. She has been confined to one room on the property of this church since August. You can learn more about Rosa’s story and join the campaign – “We Stand with Rosa” – by visiting www.southsidepresbyterian.org/sanctuary.
In Nogales, on the Mexican side of the border, we visited the Kino Border Initiative, a Jesuit ministry to migrants. In a make-shift dining room, migrants can get a hot meal and much needed moral and physical support. Some of those who come have just been deported while others are preparing to cross. The Jesuits are not in the business of helping migrants cross the border. Their purpose is to provide humanitarian aide for people in distress – whoever they are. They serve two meals each day, both meals to a different group of 30-40 migrants. We were there for one of the meals. Some of us helped serve while others moved among the migrants, listening to their stories. Women who were abused in the crossing; 16 and 17 year-olds from Guatemala preparing to cross; others, desperate for work and so attempting to cross again, a second or third time.
The Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, a Mexico-based Religious Community, work with the Jesuits. We visited their shelter, a refuge for women just returned to Mexico. Here they are given a place to stay and moral support before moving on. For some, it will be another attempt to cross; for others, a return to where they came from – at least for now.
Here we heard Edna’s story. She had recently come to the shelter. She was crossing to be with her 6 year-old US citizen child diagnosed with leukemia when she was picked up by immigration agents and deported. Her desire to be with her child is overwhelming. She will again risk her life to cross. In a few days she would try again. This will be her third attempt to make the 4-5 day trip through the desert, known as “the Devil’s Highway.” Here, temperatures exceed 100 degrees by day and drop below zero at night. Edna said when she did sleep, she slept fitfully, always listening for the rustling of poisonous snakes. Migrants are told to carry garlic so as to keep the snakes away.
As I flew home, I thought of her. Would she make it this time? Would she fall into the hands of the bandits and drug lords who violate and exploit women? Would she be attacked by the snakes or other animals that inhabit the desert? Or would she be captured by the Border Patrol and returned again. I asked her to call me when she reached her destination.
On the last day of the trip we experienced for ourselves the challenges of travel on “The Devil’s Highway.” After only a couple hours walking we had enough. Migrants walk it for days. Our guide was one of the Samaritans, an interfaith volunteer group established in 2002 to be “a healing presence in the desert.” They do not assist people to cross the border; their purpose is to save lives and relieve suffering by providing humanitarian aide to those in distress. He told us that he recently found human remains on this trail, the skeleton almost entirely intact – not the first time. He called 911 and the authorities took it from there. He wanted to return to mark the spot where this child of God had died. With duct tape and two small branches, the students made a cross and planted it in the ground. Our guide draped a rosary over the cross, and placed next to it a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, an unlit candle, and a bottle of water. The custom is to leave water for the dead in the desert. Fr. Bob then led us in prayer for the repose of the soul of this child of God who died a horrific death, alone, unknown to all but to God. A little further down the trail we came upon a pair of pants, already beginning to disintegrate. A Mexican ID was still in the pocket. Our guide will turn it over to the Mexican Consulate who will try to locate the family. Another victim of the desert. Along the trail we saw backpacks, sneakers, baseball caps, articles of clothing – some left there long ago, others more recent – belongings of those who had passed that way or who had died there. When someone dies in the desert the extreme heat will cause the body to disintegrate in a matter of days, or the body is torn apart by the animals of the desert. Samaritans go out daily to look for migrants in distress and to leave food, water, and blankets along the trail for those passing by.
We spent an afternoon in court, witnessing “Operation Streamline” in action. This is an initiative of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice which began in 2005. It’s purpose is to establish “zero-tolerance” along the US-Mexico border. Annually, it’s estimated total cost is more than $170 million. Every Monday, some 80 migrants – “criminals”- are sentenced in this Tucson court. Some for first-time entry, others for re-entry. They are hand-cuffed and shackled. Men, women, and baby-faced boys. Mexicans and Central Americans. Their sentence is anywhere from 30-180 days in a US prison before being deported, and with a criminal record. We witnessed the sentencing of 79 migrants in 40 minutes. Their crime? A desperate need to provide food for themselves and their families. The judge later met with us. After a very heated 90-minute conversation, he ended the discussion by quoting Oliver Wendall Holmes who said that the law does not deliver justice. It is a policy that we agree upon. Justice requires sacrifice and pain. He urged us to take up the hard work of justice that requires changing the law.
Immigration that is termed “illegal” is, without a doubt, a controversial issue. It is historical, political, and economic. As we met migrants, heard their stories, and saw their willingness to risk their lives, we realized that it is also deeply human. It is the story of desperate people seeking a better life for themselves and their children – people so desperate that they are willing to risk their lives in an unforgiving and unrelenting desert. Our Catholic Bishops are strongly united in a campaign for immigration reform. I don’t find it hard to know why. Our Church teaches that people have a right to a decent living in their own country, but when that is not possible, they also have a right to seek that living somewhere else, even when it means crossing borders. Together we make up the Body of Christ therefore we cannot ignore or forget the brother or sister traveling “The Devil’s Highway” today, as well as those living among us who traveled that road to get here. Every death in the desert leaves us all diminished and God calls us to respond. Perhaps a good way to start is to look deep into our own hearts and to tear down those walls that separate us from the brother or sister who is different, in whatever way, or in need. Our faith challenges us to continually cross borders, all sorts of borders, as we prepare to cross that great and final border that will bring us to our eternal home.
Celebrating the Year of Consecrated Life:
By Mother Marie Julie Saegaert, SCMC
This year’s National Assembly held at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois, was a time of extraordinary grace. In one of our first liturgies, the homilist looked out at the participants and said, “The Spirit of Jesus is here, and He is passing through His Body.” How true those words proved to be for the duration of the Assembly. Each homily, every presentation, and conversations at meals and during the committee meetings brought a Fire that burned in our hearts. The participants experienced an excitement for consecrated life that colored our prayer, our planning, and our reflections.
The announcement of the Year of Consecrated Life brings with it an opportunity not only for the People of God to become more aware of the beauty of our life, but also for each consecrated soul to turn inward and, as Saint John Paul II invited us, launch out into the deep. The homilists and presenters at the Assembly, including Most Reverend Carlo Maria Vigano, Apostolic Nuncio, and Most Reverend Salvator Rino Fisichella, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, were inspired by the Spirit of Jesus to encourage us to reverence our call to holiness and to love our vocation and our ministries with renewed fervor. With Christ as the Center of our lives, the members of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious have taken the challenge “Wake Up America” as an invitation to speak His Name with new impetus, that we may carry His Love to a world that waits for Him and for His Mercy.
“Education is central to our charism,” said Mother Marie Julie Saegaert, the order’s superior general and the secretary of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious.
She detailed the story of the vision of the order’s priest-founder, Msgr. John Zwijsen, in Holland in 1832, saying that he recognized the important role of mothers. Mothers are the ones who teach children to pray and instill values in them, and show them what love is.
“It’s very important she’s forming the consciences of her children, who will then grow up, and it’s extremely important they think and write critically,” said Mother Marie Julie. “So he wanted to open a school to educate girls.”
Soon, these schools spread throughout Holland and Belgium. Then, in 1873, a Dutch missionary priest in Baltic, Conn., asked the Sisters of Charity to come to America to educate the girls of his parish.
“There were 300 volunteers willing to come here,” said Mother Marie Julie. Six from that group were chosen to “teach young women and children here, so they could grow up to be powerful forces in the family and witnesses in society.”
Arriving in Baltic, in 1884, they quickly established the Academy of the Holy Family as a girl’s high school for day and residential students; they also opened St. Joseph School, a grammar school.
“By the grace of God, we’re still operating,” said Mother Marie Julie, speaking from the order’s motherhouse in Baltic.
Other schools the sisters opened, like Sacred Heart School in Taftsville, Conn., in 1888, remain thriving.
In addition, some sisters teach in St. Paul, Minn., at St. Agnes, an award-winning K-12 school.
While the teaching mission and apostolate remained constant, over the years, the congregation added the apostolates of caring for the sick, the aged (including homes in Wisconsin) and the poor.
In 1970, the American province separated from the European motherhouse, and, with Blessed Pope Paul VI’s permission, Mother Marie Alma Lafond founded the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady, Mother of the Church as a new autonomous congregation in the United States.
Mother Marie Julie pointed out how a recent saint influences their work.
“We really stress the ‘feminine genius’ with our academy girls,” Mother Marie Julie explained. “John Paul II stressed that and spoke about how important the woman is in Church and society. Women bring gifts that men don’t — gifts that God has given women because of the role they play in the family and society. [They are] teaching in higher education, running businesses. John Paul II believed we need to reach deep within ourselves to find and use the gifts God has given us to make a difference in the Church and the world.”
“We believe that it’s so important to inculcate Catholic values in the children because the world is searching for truth,” added Mother Marie Julie. “We hope to make citizens of our young people, who can go out and do everything, from raising healthy, holy families to holding political office. If they’re formed with good Catholic values, they’re going to make a difference in the world.”
Indeed, while the religion of non-Catholics who attend the schools is respected, many non-Catholic youngsters, with their families, come into the Church. “Many have joined the Church in our schools, and some return to the Church,” the superior general said.
The non-Catholics initially come looking for the values that are taught in the schools, explained Mother Marie Julie. “Anybody can teach. But we need to have at the core a set of values, the Gospel values: self-discipline, self-respect, respect for others, stewardship and personal holiness. All that goes toward making saints. And we’re working hard at it.”
O God, throughout the ages you have called
women and men to pursue lives of perfect
charity through the evangelical counsels of
poverty, chastity, and obedience. During this
Year of Consecrated Life, we give you thanks
for these courageous witnesses of Faith and
models of inspiration. Their pursuit of holy
lives teaches us to make a more perfect offering
of ourselves to you. Continue to enrich
your Church by calling forth sons and daughters
who, having found the pearl of great
price, treasure the Kingdom of Heaven above
all things. Through our Lord Jesus Christ,
your Son, who lives and reigns with you in
the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for
ever and ever. Amen.
During this season of advent, we eagerly await the coming of our Lord Jesus on Christmas Day. We follow the example of Mary who awaited the birth of her Son – her God. As the days of advent draw to a close, let us ask for the intercession of the Virgin Mary to allow God’s Will to be done in our lives at every moment.
We are thankful to God for the gift of two new postulants, Sister Maria Mercy and Sister M. Alexandria. Sister Alexandria entered on June 27th, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Sister is named after Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Sister Maria Mercy entered on July 16th, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. May they both continue to grow in the knowledge and love of God!
The Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2, commemorating when Jospeh and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the Temple forty days after his birth to perform the ritual of purification. It is commonly referred as Candlemas, since the blessing and procession of candles is included in today’s liturgy.
“In obedience to the Old Law, the Lord Jesus, the first-born, was presented in the Temple by his Blessed Mother and his foster father. This is another ‘epiphany’ celebration insofar as the Christ Child is revealed as the Messiah through the canticle and words of Simeon and the testimony of Anna the prophetess. Christ is the light of the nations, hence the blessing and procession of candles on this day. In the Middle Ages this feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or ‘Candlemas,’ was of great importance.” — From Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year
Below are pictures from the Candlemas at Saint Elizabeth Home in Janesville, WI.
The day after Thanksgiving the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of the Church celebrate Mother Marie Alma Day. We remember the great legacy our foundress left the congregation.
The morning began with Sister M. Mark sharing the great experiences she and Mother Marie Julie had in Rome last summer. It was wonderful seeing all of the pictures from their pilgrimage.
Later in the afternoon Mother David and Mother Marie Julie rekindled the Sisters’ spirits through their heartfelt words and asked for the Holy Spirit’s Fire to burn within our hearts. “Our Motherhouse is on fire with the love of God! Call 911!,” Mother Marie Julie said. This spiritual renewal concluded with a rededication ceremony in the chapel.